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Adapting Literacy for the Screen


While different people might have the varied meaning of film adaptation, the consensus meaning revolves around recreating a written novel or literature differently. The process involves adapting culturally defined literacy material to another medium. The film adaption targets a different audience from the text’s original intent. In a nutshell, adaptation in the film industry is transforming existing artwork to come up with a new type of art. A new art such as a movie can be developed from a play or novel. A movie is regarded as a close adaptation when most narrative aspects in the literary text are maintained. Whenever students are requested to watch a movie adaptation of a novel they are reading in class, they compare the two encounters to determine which is better. Films and books are different vehicles of experiencing a story, so it is essential to compare the two genres.

Since the literary text has stood the test of time, it delivers a meaningful message to the readers. However, just because a novel is adapted into a film does not define the value of the movie or novel. A film can be transformed into a high-quality artwork that only connects with the audience through the text’s themes and ideas. The film can only capture a few ideas or be wholly tied to the literary text. Therefore, the movie adaption quality varies as much as the quality of the original films; thus, comparing a movie to a novel to define which one is better does not provide an excellent foundation for students to write an excellent essay. Instead, one should determine whether the adaptation is stand-alone, does it capture the novels’ formal elements, whether the original message is maintained, is it a loose or straight adaptation of the book, or is the adaptation a quality film. Considering the aspects will ensure an effective comparison of the two literary genres. Therefore, throughout the current essay, I will consider the cinematic adaptations evidenced in Roger Corman’s House of Usher (1960).

Cinematic Adaptations: Roger Corman’s House of Usher (1960)

Cinematic adaptations have remained relevant from the 19th century up to date. Film adaptations are the ultimate Hollywood high-wire act, and adapting everything from classic literary texts to modern popular hits has sparked unfortunate war when trying to enjoy both literary genres (Thompson, 2021). Enjoying both arts is critical, especially when they add to, instead of subtracting from each other. Roger Corman’s “House of Usher (1960)” is among the popular cinematic adaptations from classic literature (Weisheng, 2018). The movie was adapted from the story “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan. The classic short story was written in 1839 and gained significant popularity. House of Usher (1960) movie was written by Richard Matheson and directed by Roger Corman (Weisheng, 2018). Currently, the film is defined as culturally, aesthetically, or historically significant.

The main themes in both the movie and the texts are imagination, madness, and fear. Fear plays a prominent role in the lives of the characters. Similarly, the short story indicates that imagination and fear consume each other (Poe, 2021). In Allan’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the storyteller is afraid of the old mansion even when nothing is suspicious. Further, the Usher family has a standing history of incest, and the modern Ushers suffer from insanity – this portrays a theme of madness dominant in the novel (Poe, 2021). Similarly, the author adopted the idea of art for art’s sake to ensure aesthetic unity other than the delivery of morals. Such aspects are prevalent in Roger Corman’s House of Usher (1960) film.

Roger Corman’s House of Usher (1960) begins with Philip Winthrop traveling to an isolated mansion to visit his fiancée Madeline Usher. The house of the usher is surrounded by a gloomy swamp (Thompson, 2021). Madeline’s brother opposes Philip’s purpose and tells him the Usher family is associated with a cursed bloodline. The cursed bloodline has driven all the ancestors into madness and even impacted the house of usher itself, making the surroundings deserted (Thompson, 2021). Madeline’s brother saw the family curses and madness propagated to Philip’s family through marriage. However, Philip is desperate to take his fiancée with him, and she agrees to leave to isolate herself from her brother (Weisheng, 2018). During the confrontations, Madeline suffers catalepsy, where she appears dead. Her brother convinced Philip she was dead though he knew she was alive.

Before leaving the house, Philip checks the coffin and notices it is empty. He begins to search for her, but Philip finally collapses. Madeline revives in the coffin and breaks free. She decides to confront her brother for burying her alive – the confrontation forces her to throttle him to death (Weisheng, 2018). The house is set ablaze by the fallen coals from the fire, and the collapsing house consumes two ushers. The burning of the house ends the Usher cursed bloodline (Thompson, 2021). Philip escapes alone, and the movie ends with Edgar Allan Poe’s words, “…the deep and dank tarn closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the ‘House of Usher'” (Poe, 2021). Generally, the movie has adapted most aspects from the original text, including themes of madness, imagination, and horror.

Nonetheless, the movie producers and directors ignored Edgar Allan’s style. As recognizable in the use of imagery, the literature author’s prose eliminated the expository passages characteristic of 19th-century fiction and encouraged the audiences’ imagination to participate (Thompson, 2021). By thoughtfully avoiding the explanations in the classic literary novel and numbing the audience’s imaginations by transforming Allan’s gloomy mansion into a castle coupled with green mist, Roger Corman made a horror film that offers a moderate literacy at the expense of patron’s endurance (Weisheng, 2018). Though the narration did not align with Edgar Allan’s text, the movie is mounted with skill, flair, and care to ensure the audience is pinned to their seats (Weisheng, 2018). Though it is incredibly wordy, the photo gimmicks, unusual theme, abundant gore, and special effects make the movie attractive.

In the 1960s, Corman directed and produced numerous cinematic adaptions based on Allan Poe’s literary texts. Despite the massive adaptation, Corman renewed Edgar Poe’s literary influence via creative mistranslation (Thompson, 2021). “House of Usher (1960)” film set the record of the Poe cycle. High school students loved Poe’s texts during the 19th century (Poe, 2021). As a result, Corman decided to reshape the story narrations for the demands of the teen-dominated market by focusing on the gothic elements. If one has to sit and watch Corman’s cinematic adaptations of Poe produced in the mid-nineteenth century, one would be welcomed with opulent set designs, gothic atmospherics, and painted backdrops (Weisheng, 2018). The gothic elements are exemplified by the overstated strobe lights and fog machines. All the scenes and settings involve wart-faced witches, swamps, byways, grave-robbing vagrants, and forests of 19th century New England (Thompson, 2021). Further, the Panavision shows the movies in the color-saturated disposition of the 1960s American cinemas. The film is also characterized by the problematic performances and dialogue coupled with strained dramatic beats and reverse-shot scenes. The occasional creative flourish gives the movie aesthetic credibility.

Considerably, “House of Usher (1960)” involves the era impulse towards exploiting American cinema that correlates with the dominant culture during the time. The nineteenth-century horror was meant to subvert and excite rather than shock the audience – it was considered a theatrical genre of horror (Weisheng, 2018). The recurring motifs in the “House of Usher (1960)” include the burning of house roofs and special effects adopted to visualize the fall of the usher family. Though the distance between the movie and the original novel is quantifiable, the distancing is not aimed to be the focal point of critiquing the aesthetic value of the films (Weisheng, 2018). A single literary material consists of numerous verbal signals that can produce a series of possible readings, including reading the narrative itself (Weisheng, 2018). As a result, Edgar Poe offers the cinema numerous possibilities that there are multiple historically differentiated adaptations of his literature. Significantly, Poe’s literary texts are problematic for cinematic adaptation because they lack well-defined plot details (Weisheng, 2018). Most adaptations of his literature depart from the plot formulations and narrative structure.

Though Edgar Poe might not provide sophisticated plot structures, he does not present complex narrational voicing and themes linked with supernatural, horror, and tragedy genres. Considerably, Edgar Poe’s text does not demand literary fidelity but rather involves the reader’s visual and aesthetic interpretations (Weisheng, 2018). Since Edgar Poe is attractive for the cinema, it is essential to determine the adaptive approaches adopted by Roger Corman to reflect Poe’s appeals and those of the final movie (Thompson, 2021). Generally, Poe’s text generates numerous readings, interpretations, and discussions in cinematic adaptation studies. Corman’s movie realization of Poe’s short story presents the audience with a film, unfortunately, wanting while substantive for its constrained shooting schedule and budget (Thompson, 2021). The film is burdened with the plot, with narrational structures and expositions more focused on the audience preference than the original text’s provocative propositions where senses are undermined by telepathic shifts in transformational psychological states (Weisheng, 2018). Poe’s literary text is an excellent drive for challenging cinematic experiences, but the movie director disregards the option.

For instance, Poe’s literary text presents Roderick’s hypersensitivity towards sound, odor, light, and taste. Roderick’s senses are not amplified, leading to a psychological state of uneasiness and claustrophobia (Poe, 2021). Roderick uses instrumental music to calm himself, and through sensational music, the author claims the passage of time. As depicted in the original text, Roderick suffered from a morbid acuteness of the senses and could not wear clothes of a particular text (Poe, 2021). His eyes were affected by a faint light, and the flower odor was oppressive. All the aspects are used to reveal the horror in the original text.

Conversely, Roger Corman’s technique of delivering the message is to have Roderick display an unconcealed annoyance to Philip’s voice and conversations (Weisheng, 2018). In the original text, Philip was an unnamed narrator revealed towards the end of the literary text (Poe, 2021). The significance of the narrational exposition, dialogue, and character’s goal orientation take precedence to retain the conventions of American Hollywood films (Weisheng, 2018). The sensory disturbance dominant in the gothic aesthetics of Poe’s text is recognized through characterization, and it is never revisited.

In all Corman’s fictional films, there was a monster, and in the “House of Usher (1960)”, the house is considered the antagonist. The influence attained from rendering the house like a monster is debatable (Weisheng, 2018). Though the set is comprehensive and expansive, the film director adorns the house with excellent expressionist artwork to depict the family history via portraiture (Thompson, 2021). Corman’s performers react to the lighting, thunder, howling winds, and billowing drafts, but the antagonizing of the mansion remains unconvincing. Further, the house is decorated with classical furniture, impressive artworks, and all aspects of classic haunted mansions, which indicates to the audience that the mansion is itself a conscious thing (Weisheng, 2018). Therefore, the monster or horror in the movie remains abstract and quiet.


“House of Usher (1960)” is an excellent example of a cinema oriented towards spectacle. The film offers a payoff in dramatic image, coherence, and excitement that gives the audience a lasting visual memory. Adapting literature for the screens involves various issues, including representation, audience, tone, theme, translation, and fidelity. Corman’s film is presented as a creative mistranslation of the original literature. Corman focuses on characterization rather than aesthetics to attract the vibrant teen audience.


Poe, E. A. (2021). The fall of the house of usher. Phoenix Classics E-books.

Thompson, J. (2021). Alternative Treasures: The Fall of the House of Usher and The Terror within Roger Corman’s Poe Cycle. Journal of Asia-Pacific Pop Culture6(1), 168-190.

Weisheng, T. (2018). Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic Aesthetics of Things: Rereading “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Style52(3), 287-301.


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